“I’m sorry, you’re… what?” Frankie didn’t know how she was supposed to react to Charlie’s statement, so she merely asked for clarification to buy processing time.
“I’m sleeping with Elizabeth Hutchins,” her daughter repeated, unperturbed. “That’s how I got her phone for you.”
Frankie’s head spun. She opened her mouth, then closed it, utterly strapped for words.
“It’s no big deal,” Charlie misinterpreted her mother’s silence. “I mean, you and Orly – “
“Orly and I loved each other,” Frankie cut her off. “We were together for years. We were in a relationship.”
“That you chucked the minute Dad came back into the picture.”
“That’s not the point. I wasn’t merely using her to… Are you… Do you have any actual feelings for Elizabeth?”
“Not really.” Charlie shrugged.
“What about her for you?”
“I don’t know. I guess. She pretty much told me whatever I wanted to know. That was kind of the whole point of this, so probably, yeah.”
“I… Charlie, you – you can’t just use people like this. You know that, right? You can’t treat someone who cares about you so… so… dismissively. It’s cruel.”
“It’s what Zeno did to me,” Charlie challenged. “And you were totally on his side, then.”
“I wasn’t on Zeno’s side,” Frankie couldn’t believe Charlie actually felt that way after Frankie had gone out of her way to see both views of the situation. “I understood that he hurt you. My problem was with how you retaliated, dragging in Allie, hurting her… I never said Zeno hadn’t acted badly, too. But, that doesn’t give you license to do the same thing to someone else.”
“I was trying to help,” Charlie said. “I was trying to help you and Dad with your case. I wanted you to see how responsible I could be.”
“You think it’s responsible to play with another person’s emotions?”
“Why are you so concerned about Elizabeth?”
“I’m concerned about both of you! You are both so young. You shouldn’t be taking your relationships so casually. This is the time in your life when you should be romantic, you should be falling in love…”
“Because, yeah, Dad was certainly in love with everyone he slept with. When he was my age, and later, too.”
“This isn’t about your father, Charlie. This isn’t about me and it isn’t about Zeno. It’s about you and Elizabeth, and you using sex to manipulate and deceive… does Elizabeth know you took her phone?”
“You think I’m stupid? Steven needs it to bring down her dad. I figured he could copy the information, then I’d sneak it back into her bag the next time I saw her.”
“So you plan to go on seeing her?”
“Your case isn’t cracked yet, is it?”
“Your behavior is unacceptable,” Frankie sputtered, wondering when she’d – once again – allowed the situation to get so far out of control.
“I was only trying to help,” her daughter pouted. “I can’t do anything right with you, can I? I supposed you’re going to make me give the phone back.”
“No,” Frankie said impulsively. “I – I’ll take it back myself. I’d been planning to go over to the Cory Mansion anyway.
“Oh,” Felicia said, when she opened the door to find Jamie… and Lorna… on the other side.
“We’re here to pick up Devon and Zee,” Jamie said.
“You’re… together?” Felicia’s heart leapt into her throat.
“We’re trying to be,” Jamie explained. “Lorna doesn’t remember the past, but we figured maybe we can still salvage a future. She is Devon and Zee’s mother.”
“Oh,” Felicia repeated, not sure of what to say or how to react. She looked at Lorna, but her daughter only glared blankly in return, no sign of recognition. No sign of anything. “I – I’m glad. It will be good. For the girls. To have their mother back.”
“Thank you,” Jamie said, then took Lorna by the hand and led her into the room that Zee and Devon shared when they stayed with their Nana Felicia.
The girls looked up from where they’d been sitting on the floor, playing with a pair of dolls (primarily by swinging them around by their hair), both of them grinning when they saw Jamie. Their matching expressions melting to ones of confusion at the sight of Lorna.
“Mama?” Devon asked tentatively, looking to Jamie for confirmation.
He nodded. Lorna did, too. Looking from one child to the other, keeping her distance, terrified of scaring them.
Devon sidled over towards Zee, tugging on her sister’s sleeve, pointing and repeating, “Mama!”
Zee furrowed her brow and scrunched up her lips, looking in that instant so much like Rachel that Jamie couldn’t help being reminded of the other player in this drama. He forced himself not to think about it. This moment was about the four of them, no one else.
Giving up on her sister, Devon inched tentatively towards Lorna. She reached out her hand to touch the hem of Lorna’s skirt. Lorna bent her knees, crouching until they were at eye level. “Hello, Devon.”
“Hello.” She squirmed as if the air around them was downright itchy.
“It’s good to see you.”
Devon peered over her shoulder, seemingly imploring Zee to come join them. But, her sister wasn’t having any of it. She shot past Devon and straight into Jamie’s arms, urging him to pick her up and burying her face in his shoulder, whimpering, “Zee go home.”
Jamie stroked her back soothingly, kissing her cheek and reassuring, “We’re going home right now. It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared. I’m right here. I’ve got you.”
Lorna tentatively held out her hand to Devon. “Do you want to come with me?”
Her daughter took it just as tentatively, looking anywhere but at Lorna.
“Let’s all go home,” Lorna suggested.
They walked out of the room to where Felicia still stood rooted to the spot they’d left her in, trying to process everything that had just happened.
“Felicia,” Lorna said unexpectedly.
“Yes?” Felicia’s head jerked up.
She looked at Lorna with such naked, fraught hope, that it was all Lorna could do to keep her tone dispassionate as she choked out, “Thank you,” employing every ounce of self-control to keep Lorna’s voice from cracking at the sight of her mother so desperate for any sign that things were finally – finally! – looking up. “Thank you… for watching the girls.”
“Of course,” Felicia stammered. “Any time. Any time you need. I’m here, Lorna. I’m here for all of you.”
“We’ll see you soon,” Jamie promised as he ushered his family out the door, wondering how long until this latest news trickled back to his mother.
And to Carl.
Resolving that divide and conquer was the appropriate strategy under the circumstances, Carl left Rachel to deal with Cory while he isolated Elizabeth from the rest of her family to ask, more in confusion than anger, “What do you mean you don’t wish to come with us, poppet?”
“We just got back to Bay City,” Elizabeth reminded.
“Which was never part of the plan, you know that. Your brother’s actions forced us to come out of hiding earlier than intended. Our lives are still in danger and will remain so as long as Iris is allowed to move about freely. It is imperative that we return into exile. The good news is, at least this time, your mother shall be coming with us.”
“I missed being home.”
“This is hardly home,” Carl dismissed with a wave of the hand. “This house belonged to your mother’s late husband. It’s your siblings’ residence, not yours. And it is no place for a Hutchins. Home is where you family is.”
“I grew up here.”
“A fact I sorely regret not putting my foot down about earlier. Between your atrocious, Colonial education and the stigma of growing up as my child, I’ve asked you to shoulder much too heavy of burden. I am attempting to rectify that error now.”
“If Cory stays…”
“He won’t. You know how headstrong and contrary your brother is. And you know how, ultimately, he always manages to see reason.”
“You can’t make us,” Elizabeth reminded. “We’re not kids anymore.”
Carl looked genuinely hurt. “I should have thought you would want to come with me. It has never been an issue before. Why, you went willingly three years ago. It was Cory who put up that unseemly fuss.”
“He only came because of me,” Elizabeth said. “He knew I wanted to go, and he came to keep me company.”
“I have no doubt history will repeat itself.”
“I want to stay in Bay City,” Elizabeth said.
“For goodness’ sake, why?” Carl’s frustration built and burst by the end of the sentence. “Is it,” a sudden brainstorm prompted him to lower his voice and ask cautiously, “Is it because, this time, your mother will be with us?”
Elizabeth stared at Carl in confusion, not understanding his implication for a moment, then, in a blast of insight, comprehending what he was implying.
“Yes,” Elizabeth leapt on the escape ladder he’d unknowingly offered her. Anything, after all, was better than the truth. “What do we need her for? We managed perfectly fine without her before.”
“She’s my wife, Elizabeth.”
“Then where was she for the last three years?”
“Circumstances – “
“Shouldn’t have mattered. Not if she really loved you.”
Carl’s expression stiffened. “This is none of your concern.”
“I won’t go if she does,” Elizabeth announced triumphantly, convinced she’d found a loop-hole to keep her in Bay City without anyone being the wiser regarding her true motivation. “You’ll have to choose, Father. Mom… or me.”
“Can you believe it?” Amanda paced in front of a bemused Morgan, who was watching her not unlike a particularly swift tennis volley. “He lied to me! He looked me right in the eye and he lied to me! He said no one else knew about what he and Steven had done when, obviously, he confided in Lila long before I got the truth out of him!”
“Have you told Kevin about us?” Morgan asked idly.
“Of course not!”
“Then something about pots and kettles and name calling does come to mind.”
“This is important, Morgan,” Amanda stressed. “Kevin would rather confide in Lila than in me. How are we supposed to make our marriage work under those circumstances?”
“You’re here,” Morgan reminded. “Talking to me instead of him…”
“That’s different. I can’t complain about Kevin to Kevin; that would be ludicrous.”
“Right,” Morgan said. “I’m the one who’s being ludicrous.”
“They have to be sleeping together. Kevin and Lila – don’t you think?”
“I don’t really care.”
“You don’t care that my husband is cheating on me? Some kind of friend you turned out to be!”
“You don’t need him, Amanda. You’ve got me.”
“I want him,” she corrected. “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose him to that slut my brother dragged home and promptly dumped on the rest of us.”
“So this is more about Lila not having him,” Morgan guessed.
“You need to find out what’s really going on for me.”
“Huh?” Was the best he could summon up for the occasion.
“You and Lila, you used to be related.”
“The last conversation we had, she chewed me out for… I don’t really remember, to be honest. I just remember the yelling. The woman really knows how to yell.”
“So you have a relationship, good. I need you to find out from Lila what’s really going on between her and Kevin.
“Why?” Morgan asked, dumbfounded.
“So you can tell me.”
“And what will you do with your information?”
“The right thing,” Amanda assured him primly.
While Morgan couldn’t keep himself from laughing.
“I’m not going to change my mind,” Cory warned Rachel. “So don’t waste your breath. You and Father and Elizabeth can go wherever you like. I’m staying here.”
“I’m sorry I upset you, Cory.” After Carl’s hail and brimstone, Rachel decided the gentle approach might be the best way to appeal to her son. “I know how much pressure you’ve been under. I know you, darling. You always take everything so seriously. You always feel responsible for things that should never have been your obligation to begin with. I bet the entire time you were away, you made it your business to look after Elizabeth and Lorna and even your father, too. He might not have realized you were doing it, but you were there, looking out for him, just the same.”
Cory shrugged and turned his head, unwilling to meet Rachel’s eyes.
“I love that about you,” she said. “I can’t begin to guess where that amazing quality comes from. Heaven knows, your father and I are were hardly the most altruistic of people – especially at your age.”
“Ryan,” Cory said. “Father thinks I’m like Ryan. I heard him telling you once, he thinks I’m… him.”
“He was being metaphorical, I’m sure,” Rachel dismissed. “You are you. That’s plenty good enough. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Then let me stay in Bay City. You, Father and Elizabeth can manage fine without me. And I’ll manage fine without you.”
“I have no doubts about that. I realize I’m being selfish. I’ve already lost so much time with you and Elizabeth. I don’t want to lose anymore.”
“Then stay. Not just for me, but for Jamie and Amanda and Matt, too. Father is making you choose – “
“No,” Rachel cut Cory off sharply. “Jamie, Amanda and Matt are the ones who forced me to choose. I made the wrong choice the first time. I won’t let that happen again.”
“Neither will I,” Cory said. “That’s why I’m staying.”
“Honey,” Rachel tried a different track. “You know, between five very different kids, I once thought I’d already been through all the possible parent/child scenarios you could think of. But, I realize now I really don’t have all that much experience with a father like yours. Mine wasn’t involved in my life – until he needed something. Jamie lost his dad when he was young, Matt didn’t meet his until he was a teen and Mac… Mac left the overbearing parenting up to me. I guess I didn’t give adequate thought to what it must be like for you, growing up in the shadow of a father with such a forceful personality.”
Cory scrunched up his face. “You think I feel overshadowed by Father?”
“Carl has very big shoes to fill.”
“He’s welcome to his shoes,” Cory said. “And everything else that goes with them. I have no interest in following in his footsteps.”
“I didn’t mean it literally.” Rachel attempted to lighten to mood, disturbed by the venom with which Cory uttered his words. “What I meant was, I understand why you’d like to put some distance between yourself and your father. Become your own man, establish your own identity.”
“You’re making it sound like some adolescent angst phase that I should hurry up and get over so you and Father can have your way.”
Rachel shrugged. She wouldn’t have put it quite that way but, yes, that was pretty much how she saw this. Cory was asserting his independence – as he had every right to do, especially at his age. But, now wasn’t the time. There was too much at stake.
“I know what I’m doing. And I know whom I’m dealing with. We’ll discuss this further, Mom, when you can say the same.”
“So you took him back, then?” Marley skipped the preliminaries and dove right into the heart of the matter with Sarah, dropping by and playing for over an hour with Daisy first – at the little girl’s request; waiting until her stepdaughter was asleep in another room.
“That’s none of your business,” Sarah did her best to make it clear Marley should go now. She’d put up with her for Daisy’s sake. But that wouldn’t be true for much longer.
“You’re making a mistake.”
“Neither is that.”
“You think I don’t understand Grant’s appeal?” Marley challenged. “I understand it fine. I won’t deny that, once upon a time, he got to me, too. And I was a lot older – though not much wiser – than you. What’s not to like, after all? He’s handsome, he’s charming, and he sure knows how to make you feel like the most important thing in the world. That one thing that’s keeping him sane and on the straight and narrow and good.” The look on Sarah’s face confirmed everything Marley had only suspected earlier. “That’s it, isn’t it? He got you the same way he got me. And Lorna and Amanda and yes, back in the day, even Vicky, too – and my sister was no fool. He told you he couldn’t live without you, because you’re the one who’s going to make him a better man.”
Sarah shook her head. “Grant never said that to me.”
“No. He doesn’t have to. He just implies it. It’s even better that way. Because then you get to believe it was all your idea – rescuing Grant from himself.”
“You’ve got it backwards. Grant is the one who wants to take care of me.”
“Like he took care of me after I hit Lorna with my car? Grant took care of everything. And he never asked for a thing in return. What a guy.”
“Shame you didn’t appreciate it.”
“But, I did! You have no idea how much I appreciated it. I would have done anything for Grant. Until I realized that was exactly what he wanted in return. When it comes to the women in his life, Grant isn’t happy to settle for the best of you. He wants all of you.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“It doesn’t leave much to go around.”
Sarah changed the subject. “Michele and Bridget told me you guys have moved out of Grant’s house.”
“Yes. I’m renting us a place closer to their school. It’s short-term, just until I figure out what I’m going to do next.”
“So you’re really letting Grant go? You’re not going to fight us?”
“What in the world is there worth fighting over?”
“Daisy.” Sarah hated saying it, in case the idea hadn’t occurred to Marley up to this point. But the odds of that were rather slim.
“Daisy loves me. And I love her. If the two of you intend to keep your daughter from one of the key relationships in her life, then that’s on your head, not mine.”
“We really haven’t discussed it.”
“If it were just you, I’d say I know you’ll do what’s best for Daisy. But seeing as how Grant is in the picture…”
“Grant is a good man!”
“No, Sarah,” Marley said gently, seemingly genuinely sorry to be breaking it to her. “He’s not. I know you want him to be. I know you think you can make him be. But, that’s not how it works.”
“Just because you couldn’t do it… The difference is, Grant really loves me.”
“Jake McKinnon really loved me,” Marley said.
“Michele and Bridget’s dad? The one who…”
“Yes,” Marley said. “You know, they’d never admit it – either of them – but Jake and Grant are actually a great deal alike.”
Sarah snorted. “Not from everything I’ve heard about him.”
“Ignore the superficial,” Marley advised. “I’m talking about more than black, leather jackets and designer, three piece suits. The fact that they were both able to attract Vicky and Paulina, not to mention Amanda and Lorna to an extent – and me – suggests some sort of similarity. When I first met Jake, he was the proverbial bad boy in desperate need of a good girl’s love. And I fell for it. I was going to make up for all his part hurts. I was going to be that woman he could actually trust, the one who’d never betray him or break his heart like all those others had. I was going to fix him up and we’d live happily ever after as a result. Any of this sound even remotely familiar?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said. “Like a fairy tale I once read.”
“Except it didn’t quite work out that way,” Marley went on as if Sarah hadn’t spoken. “Jake did love me. It didn’t stop him from cheating on me, mind you. But, he did love me. Still not ringing any bells, huh?”
“No,” Sarah seethed, arms crossed, just waiting for Marley to say her piece and go.
“He raped me because I wouldn’t take him back after he slept with Paulina. He loved me so much that the idea of not having me made him snap.”
“I’m sorry that happened to you,” Sarah said sincerely. “But you and Jake McKinnon have nothing to do with – “
“Grant and Vicky,” Marley said. “Same scenario, just different, superficial details.”
“I’m not Vicky.”
“No. But he’s still Grant.”
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